An Odyssey or Quest Homer Could Be Proud of -AND, for the ‘Under Grade 12’ Set, a Grade Paradigm Worthy of Collegiate Admission

I like well written IEP’s and report cards,  which require anectdotal information. There, I have confessed and am willing to take the verbal  whippings from colleagues which will surely follow  as I apparently have absurd expectations requiring ‘extra work’.   I know no shame in grading and comments and yet, when required to explain to a parent, principal and any other person needing details, there is no other better way to explain a person in terms of academic and/or other success.   I think of it like this, “Education is the only commodity which never, ever decreases in value.” Since education is of such value, it is certainly worth my time and energy to value the work my students put into their assignments (not multiple guess or true/false) and derive a grade which reflects both understanding and processing and use of  knowledge.

Giving a child (or, worse yet an adult) 75% instead of say, 85% or 95% in the world we live in now is tantamount to having a death wish and voodoo curse (  put upon you.   Percentage value (and affiliated letter grades)  is merely an approximation of a possibility of learnedness on a subject too large in both breadth and depth to give an adequate line by line detailed analysis of mastery. Furthermore, a quiz or test is  a reflection of what you need to learn  rather than WHAT YOU DO NOT KNOW, assuming you intend to be a lifelong learner.  Anecdotals are actually closer to delineating State Standards in Education than percentage grades, although I digress in an area rife with angst regarding statistical analysis and the deadly spring testing.

Grades in and of themselves do not bestow prowess of skill or mastery in subject matter, grades attempt to give a relative weighing in of a person and their potential ability in a area of learnedness.   The very proof of this is all the Wall Street MBA lackeys who brought us the recent economic implosion and people such as Mr. Madoff and Mr. Mozilo.  Whatever they had in grades led to misuse/abuse of knowledge and whatever they lacked in knowledge was demonstrated by preying upon people even more stupid than themselves – but I bet the report cards and transcripts of everyone involved look(ed) grand at some point.

When we un-necessarily  ‘bestow’ a high mark upon a student, we do less to help them learn and more to make them believe they are invinceable.  When we write anecdotals (the ‘long’ form of a grade) we provide details which illuminate the known and potential unknown.  Anectdotals always provide more detailed information and most likely a higher degree of accuracy in substantiating a persons ability and capacity. 

All of the above is why the issue of integrity in grading is such a difficult subject for everyone. Grades, no matter what the process, are inefficient, not entirely representative of all the detailed information we would like them to be.   People believe (unrealistically) grades exude a certain quality of ranking and familiarizing ourselves with another. 

While there is no perfect way to grade (even anecdotals are imperfect), there is most definitely a  better way(s) to communicate the bounds of meaning affixed to a grade (percentage or letter).  The sooner grade discrepancies are  reconfigured at the pre-collegiate level the better as the expectations surrounding grades begins early (usually as soon as a child is given an Apgar Score).  In addition to what a grade means or a relationship to test scores, our educational reforms need to take on the meat of grades referencing learned knowledge and grades which indicate what is yet to be learned. Clarity and transparency make for good bed fellows.

While on the subject of clarity, it is also important for students and parents to understand how grades ‘interact’ so to speak and form a GPA ( .   Obtaining a D or F after your sophmore year in high school can ruin your life.  Recouping for a low grade is not as simple as it seems and so rather than students and parents deciding after the first quarter grades post to do something ‘different’ or obtain help, they should be seeking out tutoring/help/study buddies the first week of school.  Sadly school is not considered with the seriousness it deserves in the US since it is so accessible. 

 Mr. Perrin has surely bitten off something he will always chew and never swallow in this lifetime, and yet it is perhaps the most important, tasty morsel of his life.  I wish him well.  More than anything, I wish all the teachers and professors out there well as this modification of policy will reform how we view not just the collegiate experience but education overall.